FAQ

Cleopatra’s Immediate Family

Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, pictured above

The Ptolemaic dynasty made use of only four names. All of the men were named Ptolemy while the women were either Arsinoe, Berenice, or Cleopatra. For the purposes of studying Cleopatra VII, the family tree below has been narrowed down to the last six generations.

The Ptolemies were almost exclusively incestuous. The royal family became notorious for constant intermarrying despite the fact that incest was considered distasteful in the Hellenistic world. For example, Cleopatra’s maternal grandmother (Berenice III) was the daughter of Cleopatra’s paternal grandfather (Ptolemy IX). To further complicate matters, both of Cleopatra’s grandfathers (Ptolemy IX and Ptolemy X) were brothers. This means that Ptolemy IX’s wife was also his niece. (Resources for studying the Ptolemies in-depth can be found on the Recommended Reading page.)

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Family Tree – Click to expand

Cleopatra’s father had six children with two different women. In order from oldest to youngest: Cleopatra VI, Berenice IV, Cleopatra VII (the subject of this site), Arsinoe IV, Ptolemy XIII, and Ptolemy XIV. The first three children were born to Cleopatra V while the last three were born to an unknown concubine. Cleopatra V was Ptolemy XII’s half-sister’s daugher (i.e. his neice), and most likely died between 69 and 67 BCE, though the cause of death remains a mystery.

Ptolemy XII went through a period of disfavor during his reign. He feared for his safety and fled from Egypt in 58 BCE to gain outside support. His two oldest daughters seized control of the government after his departure. Cleopatra’s oldest sister, Cleopatra VI, died shortly thereafter in 57 BCE. Like her mother, Cleopatra VI’s cause of death cannot be determined from ancient sources. Berenice IV ruled Egypt until Ptolemy XII’s restoration in 55 BCE, at which time he had Berenice IV executed.

Arsinoe IV and Ptolemy XIII waged war against Caesar and Cleopatra in 48 BCE. Ptolemy died during the Battle of the Nile in 47 BCE. Arsinoe was taken captive and exiled, though she was eventually executed by Marc Antony at Cleopatra’s request in 41 BCE.

The Ptolemies did not actually use the Roman numerals behind their names in ancient times. These were added by modern historians to help separate the kings and queens in history books. In their lifetimes, each member of the royal family had a second name which was used instead. For example, Cleopatra V was known as Cleopatra Tryphaena. However, these second names were often duplicates as well, which is why this site uses the Roman numerals to differentiate between individuals.

Ptolemy XIV was proclaimed joint-monarch in 47 BCE, though he was only 10 years old at the time and had no real power. He accompanied Cleopatra and Caesarion to Rome in 46 BCE, though not much is known about him. He likely died shortly after his return to Egypt in 44 BCE, though the cause is unknown.

Cleopatra had four children: Caesarion by Julius Caesar; Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene, and Ptolemy Philadelphus by Marc Antony. Caesarion was executed on Octavian’s order in 30 BCE. The remaining children were brought to Rome, though the two boys quickly disappeared from historical documents. Historians believe Octavian had them executed to prevent a future uprising.

Cleopatra Selene survived into adulthood and married King Juba II of Mauretania. They had at least two childred together, a son named Ptolemy and a daughter whose name remains uncertain. Ptolemy reigned as King of Mauretania for almost 20 years before his second cousin (related through Marc Antony’s family), Emperor Caligula of Rome, invited him to the capital in 40 CE. He was a guest of honor and treated as such until Ptolemy’s clothing stole the crowd’s attention at a gladiatorial show. Caligula became jealous and ordered Ptolemy’s execution.

The death of Ptolemy marks the end of Cleopatra’s descendants in the history books because the fate of his younger sister is unknown.

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